Release Date: Aug 14, 2015
Record label: Hollywood
Leaving behind her longtime band the Nocturnals -- in name, at least; a fair number of the members show up here, including her drummer/husband Matt Burr -- Grace Potter also leaves country in the dust on her second solo album, Midnight. Teaming with Los Angeles-based producer Eric Valentine -- he's best known for heavier stuff like Queens of the Stone Age (he even brought in Nick Oliveri to sing some backup vocals here) but also has done work with progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek -- Potter dives headfirst into pure pop with Midnight, creating a gleaming confection that, at its best, could be mistaken for late-'80s AOR. Such submersion in gloss is bound to alienate fans who've long favored her Americana authenticity but Midnight bears the same considered construction as her four albums with the Nocturnals; the surface just happens to sparkle.
Across five albums as the leader of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the Vermont-bred singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter has earned plenty of name recognition. Enter Midnight, her first solo album. Potter and the Nocturnals broke through with their 2010 self-titled album, which debuted at No. 19 on the Billboard 200.
Sudden stardom can have a damning effect on those who are susceptible to its seduction and charm, particularly when it pulls artists in directions they might have once been reticent to go. Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart and even Paul McCartney have all shown that once one leaves the confines of bands that helped nurture early success, it can be a tenuous road taken towards solo stardom. Overconfidence breeds errors in judgement, and without former colleagues to temper overindulgence, it’s often all too obvious that the individual component can falter compared to the sum of all the parts.
When a singer from an established band goes solo, potential problems abound. After years hewing to one set of rules and restrictions, there are so many paths not taken, so many styles up for the grabbing — the idea is that, now, anything can happen. Of course, most singers solve that problem by ignoring it — going solo generally isn’t a matter of artistic freedom but one of pragmatism, be it of the interpersonal or financial sort.
This is a disaster. Vermont-bred Grace Potter has built a great reputation as a soul-rock singer, drawing comparisons to a young Bonnie Raitt. But she throws away that credibility on her first solo album after a decade-plus career fronting the Nocturnals, and it’s a cheesy plunge into dance-pop that shows a crass haste to grab Top 40 radio play. Many of these synth-driven, computerized songs land with a thud; some, including the sugary “Hot to the Touch” (where Potter sings “you struck the match and now I can’t control the fire”) and “Look What We’ve Become” (“I’ll wear my heart like a flag and run straight for the sun”), are shockingly weak.